President Reagan Returns to Berlin, This Time in Bronze

President Reagan Returns to Berlin, This Time in Bronze


In 2012, the city allowed a plaque embedded in the sidewalk on the exact location where Mr. Reagan stood when giving the speech, with the East German capital, stretching out behind it. The foundation had largely given up the fight for a statue when Richard Grenell, the Ambassador to Germany, contacted them to say he had named the terrace on the embassy roof overlooking the Brandenburg Gate after Mr. Reagan — and suggested it would make a perfect place for the statue.

“If you examine the sculpture closely, you’ll discover that I placed an original piece of The Wall inside the hollow bronze stack of speech cards,” said Chas Fagan, the artist commissioned by the foundation to create the 800-pound bronze statue. “The story of the Berlin Wall is embedded in the sculpture.”

The significance of that speech has been fiercely debated since that June afternoon, with some dismissing it as an act of showmanship, while others consider it the first direct challenge to the Soviet leadership to take action.

Some years earlier, concerned that the Soviet Union was falling behind the West, Mr. Gorbachev had declared the twin programs of perestroika and glasnost. These were intended to open up civil society and to restructure the economy to make it more responsive to market signals, but there was a lively debate in the West whether he was sincere.

“General Secretary Gorbachev, if you seek peace, if you seek prosperity for the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe, if you seek liberalization: Come here to this gate!” he said. “Mr. Gorbachev, open this gate! Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall!”

Appealing directly to East Germans, Mr. Reagan also said, “Es gibt nur ein Berlin,” or “There is only one Berlin” — a remark that would prove equally prescient.

“He was courageous enough to stand there, at that point and remind people that this wall was an eyesore and a symbol of unacceptable division of Europe,” said Jens Schöne, a historian who works at the Foundation for the Study of Communist Dictatorship in East Germany. “He kept that memory alive at a time when people had come to almost accept it.”



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